This weekend’s top pick is a three-day we-just-got-kicked-out-by-the-landlord party at Taipei’s most lovable activist cafe, G-Straight (直走咖啡). There will be bands, films and discussion forums, and you can pay the entrance fee by bringing a tray of brownies. (Normal brownies will be fine, in case you were thinking otherwise.)
But first, a bit of international news. Taiwan’s nativist headbangers, Chthonic (閃靈), have been announced as part of the lineup in this year’s Fuji Rock Festival, the huge Japanese rock fest. Currently slated for July 29, they’ll play the same day as Radiohead and in doing so become the first Taiwanese band to ever play the festival twice. (On the Net: www.fujirockfestival.com.)
Scott Cook was named “Male Performer of the Year” at the 2012 Edmonton Music Awards, in a ceremony held on April 28. Though Cook has called Canada home in recent years, we prefer to think of him as an expat gone AWOL. And in case you were wondering, eligibility for those awards extends to artists living within 100km of Edmonton, so, no, your band in Hsinchu does not qualify.
Scrolling our Google Map down and over a bit, we come to New York City. Hsu-nami’s tour last month through Taiwan with The Chairman (董事長樂團) and the boy band Red Flower (紅花樂團) (on the bill because they’re labelmates with The Chairman at Sony) will take on a new incarnation as a week of gigs on the US east coast from Sunday to May 20. The whole shebang is known as Passport 2 Taiwan, and it began 12 years ago as a Taiwanese cultural festival in Manhattan. (Imagine a full day of stinky tofu in Union Square Park.)
Over the last two years, the Government Information Office has helped Taiwanese bands fly all over the world through the NT$2.1 billion five-year action plan known as the Pop Music Flagship Project. According to Hsu, who’s been programming the event’s band stage since 2007, that doesn’t apply here at all. Indeed, the government’s purse strings seem to be growing tighter for these types of things, so let’s hope the country’s indie rockers enjoyed it while it lasted. And while I personally wouldn’t mind another free plane ticket as an embedded rock journalist, I also see the upside to tours that take place because the bands want them to. At last year’s SXSW, I most certainly did not enjoy Tizzy Bac whining about the show fee when they were getting a free ride to one of the world’s top music festivals. Passport 2 Taiwan is sponsored by the New York chapter of the Taiwanese Association of America (台灣同鄉會).
According to Hsu, it attracts around 40,000 people a year for food stalls, musical performances, lion dances and other tourist-brochure-worthy cultural offerings, though the main stage has brought in acts like New York Chinatown rappers Notorious MSG. This is the first year the concert portion will spin off into a mini-tour, with dates also set for Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Last year, I managed to catch a New York club that Hsu-nami set up for Go Chic at a Lower East Side venue called Arlene’s Grocery. There was a big turnout of Taiwanese American kids (on a Sunday night!), and on the whole it felt like a regular indie rock gig. This was quite unlike the Taiwan showcase at the 2011 SXSW, which was seeded with suits from Taiwan’s diplomatic corps and sister city associations. I think we can expect the Passport 2 Taiwan gigs to be reasonably legit. This is probably the soft-power diplomacy the government wants anyway. (On the Net: www.p2t.org)
Finally, after three years of being Taipei’s hardest-to-find watering hole, G-Straight Cafe is closing down — at least for the moment. The hangout was established by activist minded grads of nearby universities (especially National Taiwan University), who used it as a base for plotting anti-nuclear rallies and other conscious actions. There were also free movie screenings and discussion forums, and once in a blue moon someone would play an acoustic guitar and sing in front of a small audience. Mostly, kids sat on the front porch and smoked cigarettes while a couple of cats stalked the grounds. You could drink coffee or Taiwan Beer inside. But alas, the street they’re located on — aside from being impossible to find — is less than 6m wide, so one complaining neighbor means they must now move on. To celebrate the end — or possibly the beginning of the next phase — they’ll host films, talks and music all weekend long. Folk bands will play upstairs, and noise/noisy bands will play downstairs in a basement nicknamed “The Hole.” Plenty of Taipei groups are down for the cause, and the lineup includes The White Eyes One Half (白目二分之一), Celluloid (賽璐璐), Black Hand Nakashi (黑手那卡西), Okay Cars, Roxymoron, No Nuke Street Band (諾努客走唱樂團), noise music wunderkind Dino and several others.
■ Today, tomorrow and Sunday from 2pm to 10pm at G-Straight Cafe (直走咖啡), 18, Ln 27, Roosevelt Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市汀州路三段27巷18號). Admission is NT$150 per day, three days for $400, or free with a homemade potluck dish. On the Net: r-u-l-e.blogspot.com